Gold nanoparticles with tunable absorption and scattering properties have been developed as contrast agents for various optical imaging techniques. As a hybrid modality that combines the merits of both optical and ultrasonic imaging, photoacoustic (PA) imaging also benefits from the use of these nanoparticles to greatly enhance the contrast for visualization of structures and biomarkers in biological tissues. Gold nanocages characterized by hollow interiors, ultrathin and porous walls are of particular interest for in vivo PA imaging because of their compact sizes, bio-inertness and well-defined surface chemistry, as well as their strong and highly wavelength-tunable optical absorption in the near-infrared (NIR) optical window of soft tissues. This review discusses the application of gold nanocages as a new class of contrast agents for PA imaging in the context of cancer diagnosis. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.